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Plummer-Vinson syndrome

Plummer-Vinson syndrome is a condition that can occurs in people with long-term (chronic) iron deficiency anemia. People with this condition have problems swallowing due to small, thin growths of tissue that partially block the upper food pipe (esophagus).

Causes

The cause of Plummer-Vinson syndrome is unknown. Genetic factors and a lack of certain nutrients (nutritional deficiencies) may play a role. It is a rare disorder that can be linked to cancers of the esophagus and throat. It is more common in women.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Weakness

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider will do an exam to look for abnormal areas on your skin and nails.

You may have an upper GI series or upper endoscopy to look for abnormal tissue in the food pipe. You may have tests to look for anemia or iron deficiency.

Treatment

Taking iron supplements may improve the swallowing problems.

If supplements do not help, the web of tissue can be widened during upper endoscopy. This will allow you to swallow food normally.

Outlook (Prognosis)

People with this condition generally respond to treatment.

Possible Complications

Devices used to stretch the esophagus (dilators) may cause a tear. This can lead to bleeding.

Plummer-Vinson syndrome has been linked to esophageal cancer.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if:

  • Food gets stuck after you swallow it
  • You have severe fatigue and weakness

Prevention

Getting enough iron in your diet may prevent this disorder.

Alternative Names

Paterson-Kelly syndrome; Sideropenic dysphagia; Esophageal web

References

Kavitt RT, Vaezi MF. Diseases of the esophagus. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund V, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 69.

Rustgi AK. Neoplasms of the esophagus and stomach. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 192.

Review Date 12/1/2016

Updated by: Subodh K. Lal, MD, gastroenterologist with Gastrointestinal Specialists of Georgia, Austell, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.